It's Ascension Day, so let's look at the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before he ascended. Here is the end of Luke:
Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:44-53)
This is a great commission. It is not THE great commission from Matthew 28 that we like to quote and try to follow, but if we look at Matthew's version, we find something needed:
But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
So our job is to make disciples. How? Well, we have to know this Bible inside and out. That's tough work, and it may seem daunting. We get scared, and we back off, because we think that everything is up to us.
Here is the version of the great commission from Mark:
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)
Discipling in Matthew, preaching the Gospel in Mark, both amount to doing a lot of homework, and we stress out, because we feel the pressure of others' salvation upon us. This is not right to feel this way. Now, Luke's version of the great commission does not contradict the other two, but it does enhance and give details as to what the others seem to hint at.
Luke's great commission informs us of three things. The first is REVELATION. Jesus opens their minds to understand the scriptures, you know, that thing that we were finding a daunting task, when we thought it was all up to us after reading the other two versions of the great commission. Jesus is telling us here that the Holy Spirit will open our minds to the scriptures. The Holy Spirit will make us understand the Bible. The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. Don't stress out, because God is in control.
Second, Jesus tells us not to generally preach the Gospel, but to specifically preach REPENTANCE, which leads to the forgiveness of sins. We live in a world where we don't think we are going wrong. Preaching the good news of the Gospel begins with preaching the bad news of sin. Repentance is the removal of the blockage, allowing the Holy Spirit in, but in case you were beginning to worry about this being the hard work you thought it would be, remember that only the Holy Spirit can bring someone to repentance. This is another supernatural action. Our natural state is to stay as far from repentance as possible. We don't need it. We don't want it. Once the scriptures have been revealed to us by the Lord, we can aim the Gospel toward repentance, and the Lord brings that person to repentance.
Finally, I'm going on the R theme: the third thing the Holy Spirit provides is REGENERATION. Only the Holy Spirit can do this. Once Jesus has been revealed through the scriptures and we have repented, the Holy Spirit begins to regenerate us. This is a life-long process that turns us into little Christs. From Luke's point of view, the Great Commission is not so daunting, because Christ reveals here that the Holy Spirit is in control of everything. God is sovereign.
Now, it's very important that we realize that these are the last words Christ spoke before ascending. The words need to be connected to the ascension, and here is why. Let's look at the beginning of Acts, also penned by Luke:
While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:4-9)
Jesus has finished telling them about the three roles of the Holy Spirit, pertaining to the great commission, and still they are asking him about ushering in the kingdom to earth. Do you see that? This kind of thing is all through the Gospels. Jesus performs a miracle and the witnesses attempt to take him by force and make him king. Why? Well, what does an earthly king look like? An earthly king is going to solve all our problems, while we . . . continue living our lives the way we always had before. No spiritual or regenerational change in any of us.
Look at John 6. Jesus feeds the 5,000, and the people converge on him in order to make him king by force. Why? Because magic Jesus will feed us for free every night, and we won't have to work for it! We can go on living our lives the way we always have, which is continuing in SIN. Jesus will feed us magically by making food out of thin air.
When the disciples ask Jesus if he is going to bring the kingdom to earth, he responds, essentially, this stuff is not for you to know. Wait for the spirit. ASCEND. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this earth, and that is essentially what he is saying at this point: Great Commission, Holy Spirit, ASCEND. The kingdom isn't a genie Jesus doling out food. The food for Christians is the Holy Spirit from above, revealing to us, bringing us to repentance, and regenerating us. THAT is the kingdom.
When we are speaking to someone about Jesus, we must remember that this is not about bringing someone into an earthly kingdom of Christ. This is not about getting members into a church. This is preparing someone for the heavenly kingdom, and Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit, who ushers in this kingdom now. This is food from above, and the food has been given to us for revelation, repentance, and regeneration.